Plato writing in “The Laws”, speculated that self animation was proof of the possession of a soul: any object that moved without any external force operating on it was a living thing and had to have a soul for autonomous motion.

What would he have said about objects that couldn’t move but could think and remember and speak?

In the modern house or office he would be surrounded by them. Smart objects are pretty common now, but in the next few years they’ll be more ubiquitous than smart phones: from windows that speak to your phone when it’s opened, to the caps on pill bottles that remember when you’re due to take a prescription tablet (they glow when it’s time).

But the most inanimate object you could think of, the one thing that’s always been completely passive and has only ever had things done to it, is the blank page. But we’re now in the age of the smart page.

Nitro Software

Smart Documents are the kinds of things Nitro specialise in. They’re all about documents that are intelligent and add value to the work process. The company was set up in 2005 and currently serves more than 490,000 customers, and that includes half of the of the Fortune 100 companies.

It has its roots in Australia but today its HQs is in San Francisco. And lately Nitro’s been the centre of a whirl of activity: It set up its EMEA HQs in Dublin last year; more recently it announced an investment of $15m from Battery Ventures bringing its total funding to $21.6 million. Subsequent to this they’ve announced a hiring plan to expand their Dublin headcount to between 150 to 200 within 3 years and they’re also considering a new data centre in Ireland as well.

In a recent interview with Australian publication The Age, Nitro’s co-founder & CEO Sam Chandler said of Ireland:

“The talent pool in Dublin is many, many times larger and richer than Melbourne or Sydney. The reason for that is the Irish government has spent the last 30 years encouraging foreign technology companies to set up in Ireland. Google, Salesforce, Microsoft – there is no better place for a scaling start-up to hire talent.
“Second, it is more cost-effective to do business in Dublin than Australia. Australia is a very expensive place – everything is expensive, not just tax.”

Smart Documents

Essentially, like all vendors of smart software, Nitro Software is marketing simplification. Its offering does this by converting documents into a Portable Document Format, more commonly known as a PDF.

This means that any document or attachment, from a Microsoft one to a JPG can be turned into a PDF and even converted back again. This will enable it to be shared on any platform, from the laptop to cloud to mobile, which is crucial if a team is spread over a number of locations and they need to work on the document at the same time to a shared deadline.

Nitro Pro allows the people who created and shared the document to see if it’s been read by the recipient. They can even see if he’s online. If changes are made to it, the senders can see the updates in real time.

The smart document will track and time-stamp all the changes which in reality will probably be numerous and be created by all parties. This can become pretty confusing very quickly, so Nitro Pro’s organisation of these changes is crucial.

Before sign off, everyone has the advantage of comparing versions and tracking all changes so they can be confident enough to agree to it.

Home Smarts

The technology has applications within companies as well. Anyone who’s worked with paper, ink, printers and scanners would appreciate that combined they’re anything but simple. Nitro’s drive is towards the paperless office. This is great news for the increasing number of workers who are operating from home. For these home-based employees, going up to their manager’s desk and getting important documents like times-sheets signed-off isn’t an option.

The old process, working from home, would’ve involved buying a scanner and printer, hooking everything up, then printing the documents out, filling them in, signing them and scanning them back into the PC and converting to a PDF and finally emailing them to management.

It couldn’t be more cumbersome, the smart way to do it would be some type of technology that allows you to do the whole thing online. Nitro Cloud offers this solution.

The user can create a time-sheet template online because they’ll be using it every week or month, fill it in on-line and then share it with the relevant parties for validation or approval.

The advantage, of course, is that the home-worker saves on buying the printer, scanner, ink and paper and all the cost and problems that using them incurs, as well as the enormous increase in convenience that Nitro’s technology brings.

(Click the image for full size Infographic).


 Selling Smarts

A crucial application of Nitro’s offering is in the front-line of business: selling. For sales people time is the enemy: they have to manage every sales cycle so it fits their own monthly or quarterly deadlines. Anything that prolongs that cycle can turn a well managed deal into a disaster or catastrophe if it impacts on their quarter.

The trouble always lies in the minutiae of the process. Deals to be closed on the last day of the month or quarter are the most stressful: at that point all the negotiating’s over, everything’s been agreed verbally and everyone’s happy with it.

For legal purposes the whole agreement might have to signed by the buyer. This means a hard copy will have to be printed out, signed and then faxed back to the sales team.

The processes of printing and faxing documents have a lot of moving parts. What if the printer breaks down or the buyer runs out of ink and the girl with the key to the stationery cupboard is on two weeks holiday, or the fax machine doesn’t work? These are things you never considered when you were originally discussing time-frames.

But if the shared document can be signed electronically and updated with that signature in real time, then that could be done in seconds. Nitro Pro offers this feature which is a solution to a perennial, real world problem.

It’s called QuickSign™ and is one of two main functions that make Nitro stand out from its rival, Adobe Acrobat.

The other is the user’s ability to redact sensitive information on a document. This includes text, images and illustrations.

Additional differentiators for Nitro are user interface features including floating toolbars and text alignment tools.

All this was enough for Lenovo to include Nitro Pro 8 as the default PDF reader in its machines back in 2012.

The realisation of a paperless office may be a bit further away than we had hoped given that contract law might be a few cycles behind both the smart doc technology and the preferences of people in the business and legal professions. And maybe some people just prefer using paper.

However, software like the Nitro portfolio will definitely bring that day forward by packing lots of smarts into the document itself and ultimately creating something that might still be inanimate but that’s sharper and more alive than an old Greek philosopher.